Sierra Nevada in SE Spain is the highest mountain of the Iberian Peninsula, with picks exceeding 3400 meters above sea level. This is a wonderful place for enjoying wildlife, especially for butterflies and plants with a high proportion of endemics. In this impressive altitudinal range has been recorded no less than 127 species of butterflies.
During early July I got an enquire asking me for a couple of days looking for butterflies in Sierra Nevada. After making all the arrangement, I meet the small party on June 5th and we set off to Sierra Nevada ski resort. The wind is strong in the summit so we decide to walk along small gorge where we should be more sheltered from the wind. Our first sights are a group of Spanish Ibex, a solitary Griffon Vulture and a gorgeous male Rufous tailed rock thrush.
After searching for half an hour, we find the first of many stunning Nevada Blues. The morning is a bit cold, so they are half asleep. Lindsay, Peter and I take advantage of this and take some nice pictures of this endemic butterfly. Later, we carry out our search and find good number of Small Tortoishell, Adonis, Escher’s and Common Blue butterflies. Furthermore, we get views of Spanish brass ringlet which fly off as soon as we approach. Sadly, the strong wind make impossible to find the local race of Apollo butterfly.
After coffee and facilities in a near Kiosk, we drive down and park near a hotel. Pau wants to have a look in a wet meadow where he has seen in the pass Purple-shot cooper. The first thing we spot is a beautiful Robust marsh orchid and a common Swallowtail butterfly. Flying around there are dozens of Pallid Swifts, Black redstarts and Northern wheatear. John spots a Purple-shot cooper drinking in the ground and Pau finds a Rock Grayling and a Small skipper.
Our last stop is on the way to the Hotel, in a pond near Villanueva. Here we get 10 species of dragonflies and damselflies, including Blue-eye, Small redeye, White featherleg, Broad scarlet and Violet dropwing among others.
We arrive to the Hotel around 2:30. As it is already hot (31ºC), the rest of the day is spent by the Hotel’s swimming pool.
The following day, we set off again to look for more butterflies in Sierra Nevada. Pau suggests trying another location for Apollo butterfly. After driving for 1 hour, we get over 2200 meter high and park the vehicle. We start following a track finding Water Pipit and Dunnocks. Soon we find our first Apollo butterflies, followed for 30+ more. Other butterflies sightings include Queen of Spain Fritillary, Painted lady, Long-tailed Blue, Amanda’s blue, Wall Brown and Ida’s Blue.
On the way down, we have a quick visit to the Botanic garden. Here we find an adult and a caterpillar of Moroccan Orange Tip. In addition, we see a beautiful Iberian Marbled White and a Silver studded blue “drinking” nectar on a thistle. Regarding birds, a Golden Eagle is seen by Lindsay and John, and in the nearby pine forest a family of Rock buntings feeds on seeds. Pau finds a Crested tit picking insects from the bark.
We continue the trip looking for butterflies in Sierra Nevada and drive down to a much lower altitude towards Güejar-Sierra. In a meadow, we get Wall brown, Blue-spot hairstreak, Gatekeeper and Southern Gatekeeper. There are also Yellow Clouded, Southern Speckled Wood and Lulworth skipper. All flying around plants of the Eryngium genus.
Our final stop is in a path along the Genil river. Marbled White, Cleopatra and Meadow brown are everywhere. The river is patrol by Common Goldenring dragonflies and we also bump into a Large psammodromus which was enjoying a sunbath.
Finally, Pau drives to Granada where the group will remain the following days sightseeing this terrific city. All in all, an enjoyable couple of days in these wonderful mountains full of interesting butterflies. In total, we recorded 65 species of butterflies.
At 8:45 sharp, Deidre, Karmela and Rod are picked up by Pau from their hotel in Valencia. They drive west through a busy traffic in Valencia, and about 1:10 h later arrive to Fuenterrobles, close to the border with La Mancha. After a short walk in the scrubland, Pau finds a Thekla Lark and a stunning male Black-eared Wheatear perched on a telephone wire. Pau ears a familiar call and after few minutes searching they get their reward, a beautiful Spectacled warbler. On a nearby field, Greater short toed larks delight the group with their full song in a beautiful morning.
They continue driving along the A3 for 1:30 h to a local bar to have lunch. Their next stop is in the lagoons of “La Mancha Húmeda”. By the road, there is a small pond packed with birds, including 40+ Black terns, numerous species of waders and a pair of the most wished Bearded tits. They drive along the track and find the colourful Bee-eaters and distant Lesser Kestrels.
Finally, the afternoon is spent in Alcázar enjoying close views of White-headed Ducks, Black-necked Grebes and Red-crested Pochards.
Dinner is in a local restaurant in Belmonte: Ajoarriero (cod and potato), Patatas bravas, Pisto manchego (ratatouille with egg) and a salad, all washed down with a good bottle of red wine.
After driving through gorgeous fields of poppies, they arrive to a private state where Rock sparrows thrive in the ruins of what were the facilities of a quarry. Soon after that, they bump into a small patch of Woodcock orchids. This well managed state is a wonderful place for birds. It just take them few minutes to find Subalpine and Melodious warblers, however these birds are no the main reason why Pau take the group here. After searching for few more minutes, they hit the jackpot!! A cracking Eagle Owl takes off from about 12-15 m from where the group is standing. Smiling faces after seen this wonderful raptor.
The rest of the day is spent in the National Park of Tablas de Daimiel and the surrounding area. From the blind they get fantastic views of a Penduline Tit as well as Cetti’s and Savi’s warblers. After a most wanted coffee, they take a stroll to get some of the targets. Soon, they are rewarded with great views of a pair of European rollers mating and Deidre finds a Purple heron carrying a snake in its bill. They keep postponing lunch as there is a lot going on! Rod enjoys watching a pair of Golden orioles chasing one another from tree to tree and Pau finally gets in its scope some Spanish sparrows.
After lunch, they take a stroll around the reeds finding Spoonbills, a Greenshank and a Common coot with chicks which are photographed by Karmela from many different angles. Finally, we stop in the souvenir shop before driving back to our 18th century Hotel.
After loading the car they set off to the near farmland. Before reaching the first stop of the day, Pau has to pull over so everyone can get excellent views of a Black vulture. From a nearby almond tree, a stunning Great spotted cuckoo can be seen! That’s a good start! They continue driving but Pau stops again as Deidre spots a Stone curlew followed by another one.
Later, Pau takes them to the magic track where everyone gets excellent views of a male Little bustard displaying. Pau says it is his best view ever! Good to see Little bustards, since there has been a huge decline of these magnificent birds in the last decades. They drive to the following village to locate the elusive Great bustards with no luck. Pau decides to move towards Madrid hoping to find them in another area and bingo! They find 5 stunning males feeding in the arable land. After pleasant views, they drive for 1:30 h to make a stop for coffee and facilities in a petrol station near Madrid.
The group continue the journey towards the north of Madrid and make a stop near Tres Cantos. While they have the picnics lunch there, a Spanish Imperial Eagles display in the air. Fantastic! The air is quite warm, so the butterflies are very active: Marbled White, Kidnapped Fritillary, and Yellow Clouded are seen among others butterflies.
Their final destination is in the steppes close to the hotel in Torrelaguna, where they get close views of a group of 15-20 male Great bustards and a distant male Montagu’s Harrier.
Today the group set off to the snow-capped mountains of the National Park of Guadarrrama. The first stop in the mountain pass is rewarded with a group of very confident Citril finches. Everyone enjoys this beautiful bird displaying. Later, after lunch, they visit the woods adding Garden warbler and the Iberian subspecies of Pied flycatcher. The sun is warming up and butterflies start to fly around: Orange tip, De Prunner’s ringlet, Brimstone and Marsh fritillary. Reptiles also seem more than happy with the weather, especially the half meter Ocellated lizard that Pau finds in a wall. Later we enjoy great views of Tree pipit displaying and raptors such as both kites and Black vultures.
The party leaves the park and head off to the oak forest near el Escorial. Sadly start raining as soon as they find a Cirl bunting. On the way back to the hotel, a flock of Iberian magpies fly right across in front of the car.
After dinner, Deidre and Pau try to locate some of the Red-necked nightjars that Pau saw the previous night. After the rain, the tracks are too muddy to drive with the car so they decide to go for a walk. The night is filled with the sound of Scops owls and Red-necked nightjars. On the walk back to the car, we bump into a Natterjack and a Midwife toad.
Pau suggests having breakfast today at 6:00 am. He would like to try a spot for Dupont’s lark on the way to the Pyrenees. Once they get to the spot, the weather is not the best for finding this elusive bird, with wind and showers in a cold morning. However, they do get other interesting birds like Common cuckoo, Montagu’s harrier and Rock thrush. On the way back to the motorway, Pau see a Iberian green woodpecker flying to a poplar tree so pulls over to allow everyone views of this woodpecker. At the same time, a Golden oriole pops up in the top of a tree.
After a welcome stop in a local bakery, they set off to Zaragoza for a stop near el Pilar to see Pallid swifts.
The group arrives to Valle de Hecho around 3:30 pm and decide to explore for a couple of hours the surroundings before going to the hotel. In a farm, they get fantastic views of 5 Egyptian vultures displaying and chasing one to another. Karmela keeps pressing the button of her camera. It is just amazing! Later, along the river, we get long views of a Dipper diving and Pau finds Green-winged and Marsh orchids. In a meadow close to the car, we find 3 gorgeous male Bullfinches and a pair of Red-backed shrikes.
After a long day, we all soon go to bed.
The morning is spent locally. After 30 minutes hike the party get to the cliffs where the Wallcreeper have been breeding during the last years. After waiting about 40 minutes, they get a glimpse of this stunning bird quite high up in the cliff. Suddenly, another one arrives and both fly off showing their distinctive red patch on their wings. The group decides to wait hoping to get another view and their patience pays off but not with a Wallcreeper but with a Lammergeier.
On route, Pau stops for a coffee in Hecho before visiting the next valley for lunch. In the near meadows everyone gets nice views of Rock bunting and Red kites. Few minutes later, Deidre spots a Griffon’s vulture perched in the ground just few meters from the road. They stop the car to watch the vultures circling around, there must be a carcass. They spend the rest of the day in Ansó, where the group get nice views of a Red Fox and a Crested Tit among other common birds.
Deidre and Karmela are woken up during the night by a loudly Tawny Owl, calling from a small patch of forest near the garden.
Today, the group sets off to Navarra to look for some alpine birds. On route, Deidre finds an Egyptian vulture perched on a telephone post. It is nice to see that this threatened bird still remains fairly common in the area. Once they get into the valley, they find Alpine chough and lots of Northern wheatears displaying in the meadows. The group carry on towards France enjoying wonderful views of the snowy mountains. The snow still remains in many areas which is quite unusual at this time of the year. Later, Deidre finds a Ring ouzel perched in a pine and Pau quickly focuses the telescope so everyone enjoy fantastic views of a male of the subspecies alpestris. Citril finches chirp and fly in small flocks in front of the vehicle.
On the way down the valley they spot a flock of 4 raptors which turn out to be 3 Red kites and a Booted eagle. Near the road, Pau locates a Water pipit with its distinctive pinkie chest. However, the big surprise comes when Pau finds a friendly Marmot which looks to us hidden in a pile of rocks.
Once they get to the hotel, Karmela, Deidre and Pau walk around the forest and meadows looking for other species. A Firecrest shows well in a nearby Scots pine and Short-toed treecreeper flies every minute to its nest located under a tile on the roof. The rest of the evening is spent drinking some of the local beer and chatting with a group of Swedish birders.
Today is the final day of this wildlife adventure around Spain. After passing through Siresa, Pau pulls over to one side as he hears two Wrynecks calling. Everyone see this nice bird. The group continue the long journey ahead, making a couple of quick stops for photographing Common buzzard, Melodious warbler and other common birds.
After a couple of stops for facilities and lunch, they get near Valencia where they spend few hours birding in the coastal wetland of Marjal del Moro. Audouin’s gulls, Little and Sandwich terns fly around while the group stays in one of the hides. While the group waits patiently to see some Little Bitterns, Pau and Deidre get a glimpse of a Purple swamp-hen walking along the shore. Rod also enjoys great views of a Great reed warbler perched up on the reeds. Before they leave the hide, a pair of Turtle doves land on a nearby tamarisk. The final surprise comes when Pau finds in the colony of Sandwich terns, an Elegant tern incubating its nest. Therefore, this pair will be the second breeding in Valencia region this season!
Finally, we drive to the hotel and say goodbye. Thanks to Deidre, Rod and Karmela for making this trip so enjoyable.
To download the complete check-list of the Wildlife trip report to Valencia, La Mancha, Madrid and the Pyrenees, please click here. Dates May 17-24th 2018
Recce trip-Wildlife trip report to the Canary Islands (Tenerife and Fuerteventura)
March 30th – April 5th 2018
It has been my second wildlife trip to the wonderful Canaries Islands, a great opportunity to visit other less-known places and to put together an itinerary we will run next year in late winter 2019.
Day 1 – 30/03/18 Valencia-Tenerife Sur (Wildlife trip report to the Canary Islands)
After a late flight from Valencia to Tenerife Sur Airport, Pau and Virginia head off with the rented car straight to the Rural Hotel in Güímar to rest and be ready for this new adventure!
Day 2 – 31/03/18 El Teide and Erjos (Wildlife trip report to the Canary Islands)
At dawn, we are soon woken up by the songs and calls of the numerous birds that live in the hotel’s orchards. Among the avocados, Atlantic Canaries build their nests and the endemic Canary Islands chiffchaffs sing and flick their wings displaying. After a nice breakfast, we are off to the Canary pine forest near the Orotava to look for some endemic forest birds. Soon, we bump into a distinctive local form of Common Chaffinch F. c. tintillon. We continue walking for 10-15 minutes to get away from the crowds who are enjoying barbecues, a popular pastime in Easter. Near a stream, we find two Tenerife (African) Blue Tit C. t. teneriffae, a Tenerife Kinglet and a Common darter dragonfly.
Later we drive towards the impressive Teide. No wonder that this National Park gets 4 million visitors per year!!! It is an impressive volcanic landscape with different lava formations each few hundred meters. As we have the picnic, numerous Tenerife Lizards get closer and closer to us, hoping to be fed by tourists. We continue our journey towards the Parador to find there our first of many Berthelot’s pipits, and also the endemic subspecies of Common Buzzard B. b. insularum. From a viewpoint, we see another Macaronesia endemic, the Plain Swift.
Finally, our last visit of the day is in the pools of Erjos. We don’t see many birds, probably because there are dogs swimming in the pools. We just add Common coots and Barbary partridge, but some interesting and nice flowers make worth the stop: Argyranthemum frutescens, Bituminaria bituminosa, Mercurialis annuus, Canary Samphire (Astydamia latifolia), Aeonium canariense and Euphorbia aphylla. Regarding dragonflies, Blue emperor and Red-veined darter are seen.
Day 3 – 01/04/18 El Teide, viewpoint and Punta de Teno (Wildlife trip report to the Canary Islands)
During our pre-breakfast walk around the orchard, we find a beautiful Stripeless tree frog resting in a pond, a Broad scarlet dragonfly, a Canary Speckled Wood and a Turtle dove perched on the top of the stem of an Agave americana.
Our first stop of the day is for the endemic Blue chaffinch at Las Lajas. Soon, we get an approachable beautiful male. Then, we drive for 45 minutes to a well-known viewpoint for the endemic pigeons on the West coast. The downside of this place is the constant traffic along the TF-5 but it is a reliable place for Laurel Pigeon. After 15 minutes, we get a distant bird flying over the vegetation.
The next stop is a small patch of laurel forest where we find two distant Bolle’s pigeons and some interesting laurel forest plants: Echium giganteum, Silene gallica and Limonium fruticans.
Today’s final destination is Punta de Teno. Due to access restrictions, we have to take a bus to reach this rocky lava habitat known as ‘malpaís’. It is midday and temperature is quite high (25ºC) and this might be the reason why it is so quiet. Nevertheless, we manage to see in the scope a distant group of 50 or so Cory’s Shearwaters. Regarding plants, some remarkable species are Reichardia crystalina, Monanthes laxiflora and Euphorbia canariensis.
Our rural hotel is not serving dinner today due to some improvement works, so we head off to El Puertito to have some excellent Canary food: almogrote (goat cheese with red pepper), fish and papas with mojo picón. Around the harbour, we find Whimbrel, Grey Wagtail, and Turnstone.
Day 4 – 02/04/18 Anaga, Los Rodeos, and flight to Fuerteventura (Wildlife trip report to the Canary Islands)
Today is our last day in Tenerife as the plan is to take a flight to Fuerteventura during the evening.
After breakfast, we drive North to the Anaga area and as nearly always happen there, the laurel forest is cover by clouds. This is the wettest area in Tenerife, the trade winds (‘vientos alisios’) blow from the sea carrying moisture. Nevertheless, we walk along an interesting path covered by Azores Laurel, Canary Strawberry Tree, and Tree Heather, watching our first Canary Islands Robin. Later, we drive down towards the sunny coast for some more plants and birds. Along the path, we find a Sardinian Warbler as well as a nice variety of flowers and endemic plants: the stunning Canary Bell flower, Dragon-tree, Echium leucophaeum, Lavandula buchii, the beautiful Echium simplex, Limonium arborescent, Monanthes wildpretii and Lotus dumentorum.
After lunch, we set off to Los Rodeos, near the airport, to see some fine patches of Gladiolus italicus. Corn buntings sing from the fences and we try to locate unsuccessfully a Quail.
Around 7:20 pm we board to the plain and 50 minutes later we land in a completely different landscape in Fuerteventura. After getting our rental car, we head off to the Hotel.
Day 5 – 03/04/18 La Antigua, Los Molinos and West coast (Wildlife trip report to the Canary Islands)
Once we have breakfast, we visit a pool near La Antigua. This green area is a magnet for both resident and migrant birds. As soon as we arrive, we find Ruddy shelducks, the local race of Great grey shrike L. e. koenigi and a Little ringed plover. Among the grass, Pau finds a bird that turns out to be a Wryneck. Most of the sightings of this uncommon migrant are recorded in the Eastern islands (Lanzarote and Fuerteventura) which are closer to the African coast.
On the sky, we find a ‘Guirre’ local name for the endemic race of Egyptian vulture N. p. majorensis. There are around 65 breeding pairs in Fuerteventura and a total population of 300 birds. This amazing raptor is recovering from a near extinction in the 80’s. One of the main differences from their European cousins is that the Fuerteventura ones do not migrate during winter, thus they can be found all year around.
On the way back to the car, five Black-bellied Sandgrouses fly off scared by the presence of a Common Buzzard.
Our next stop is near Los Molinos. There, we find a confident group of Spanish sparrows carrying damselflies on the bill. We also get to see Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Northern Wheatear, and our first Barbary Falcon. In addition, there were a couple of Lesser emperors mating, Blue-tailed damselflies, and several Atlantic Lizards. We decide to drive few kilometres to have the picnic and while Virginia enjoys great sea views, Pau plays hide-and-seek with a Spectacle warbler and a Barbary squirrel. This mammal was brought in 1965 from Sidi ifni (Morocco) and since then, they have multiplied causing conservation problems. After lunch and coffee, we head North to our next stop. Our next new species is a group of three lovely Colour-creamed Courser and after a bit of search, Virginia spots a fantastic and globally threatened Houbara bustard, probably the most wanted and highly prized species in this area. A walk around the area proves to be a good decision as we got an excellent view of a perched Barbary Falcon and two Red-billed Tropicbirds, a species which is breeding in the islands since a few years ago.
Our last stop is in Vallebrón, where we get the endemic Fuerteventura stonechat. Later, we have a pleasant dinner with Toni and Julio, two good friends who are involved in the ‘Guirre’ conservation project.
Day 6 – 04/04/18 Salinas, Río Palmas, and East coast (Wildlife trip report to the Canary Islands)
Today is our last full day in these wonderful islands, so we start visiting the Salinas and adding Sandwich tern. In the nearby ‘barranco’ there are some plants adapted to salty soils such as Canary island Tamarisk, Atriplex semilunaris, Suaeda vera and also Asphodelus tenuifolius.
Following, we drive to Río Palmas where we see Epaulet skimmer dragonflies and Laughing dove, a recent coloniser on the island from continental Africa. Sadly, we find a death Barn Owl in the stream. However, the big surprise came later when Pau spotted two Ring Ouzels feeding on dates, a local rarity in the island.
We decide to drive to La Pájara for having lunch but before that, we make a quick stop in the viewpoint where we see a very tame Raven (C. c. tingitanus).
To finish the day, we visit a goat pen with a drinking trough which is a fantastic area for Trumpeter Finches. In just 1 hour we recorded above 50 birds drinking and feeding in the surroundings. There are very nice males with its bright orange-red bill, grey head and pink breast and rump. In the surroundings rocks, we also see a couple of Fuerteventura stonechats.
Day 7 – 05/04/18 Fuerteventura-Madrid (Wildlife trip report to the Canary Islands)
Our last day in the island is to finish packing and driving to the airport to take the plain to Madrid, where we will visit the ”dehesa” and the Guadarrama mountains for some specialities.
To download the full wildlife trip report to the Canary islands and check list, please click here
Today I have prepared for Jan and Robert an interesting itinerary which combines wetland birds, with butterflies and orchids in Costa Blanca. The last weeks has been very warm for March (max, temperature of 31ºC!) and butterflies are already very active. In addition, we are at the peak of the Mediterranean orchids so I expect to see a good number and variety of them.
After picking Jan and Robert up in Jávea we set off to Pego marshes. The paddy fields are being drying out and the number of birds is amazing. There are thousands of Little and Cattle Egret, White Wagtails, Pipits, Gulls, etc. Very soon we find 19 Common Cranes feeding in a field and Pau spots a couple of Little Ringed Plover and a Bluethroat popping out from the reeds. As we drive around, we find a stunning male Hen Harrier. It is probably the same bird seen last week by Pau. Other common birds seen include Hoopoe, Serins and Tree Sparrows.
In the North part of the park, we spot 2 Booted Eagles, several Marsh Harrier and 5 Common Buzzard migrating above the Montanyeta verda. Later, we find over 100 Audouin’s Gulls, joined by few Mediterranean Gulls feeding on the invasive american crayfish in a paddy field.
After a rewarding coffee stop in Pego, we continue driving to the near valleys to look for butterflies and orchids in Costa Blanca. In our fist stop, Pau show us 3 spikes of Mirror Orchid (Ophrys speculum) and a couple Sawfly Orchid (Ophrys tenthredinifera). Our next stop is on the shade of a stone oak to have lunch. Soon we have to stand up to see a nice Firecrest and a stunning Moroccan orange tip butterfly. Once we finish and pack up the picnic table and chairs back in the boot, we drive few km more. A short walk reveals few tens of Early purple orchids (Orchis olbiensis). We find from white ones to magenta, a nice variety of colours!
Later we drive to an area near Vall d’Ebo where Pau has found previously orchids and his favourite butterfly, the Spanish festoon. There, we see lots of spikes and basal rosettes of two species: Sombre-bee Orchid (Ophrys fusca) and the endemic Ophrys dianica. Regarding butterflies, we have superb views of Spanish festoon, Bath white and Provence Hairstreak among others. Along the road, we find a Cirl Bunting.
Finally, on the way back to Jávea we make a quick stop to add some cracking orchids: Giant Orchid (Himantoglossum robertianum) and Woodcock Orchid (Ophrys scolopax). Furthermore, we add two hybrids Ophrys x castroviejoi (O. scolopax x O. speculum) and Ophrys x pielteri (O. scolopax x O. tenthredinifera). Regarding butterflies, we add an extra 15 species more of butterflies, including Scarce Swallowtail, Cleopatra, Western Dappled White, Mallow Skipper and Holly Blue.
I am meeting Dieter and Fiona in El Rocío. Our start of the birding trip Donana is along the promenade which overlooks the Marshes of El Rocío. The marshes are packed with birds after the abundant winter rain. Our first raptors on sight are Red Kites and Marsh Harriers. On the water there is a large number of Spoonbills, Greater Flamingos and wildfowl.
As we walk near the visitor centre, we get an amazing view of a Great spotted Cuckoo being chased by an angry Magpie. It is the first lifer for Dieter and Fiona. Once we get to La Rocina we see Short-toed Treecreeper, Serin, Iberian Grey Shrike, Hoopoe and Crested Lark among other common birds. On the river bank we find a mixed group of Little Egrets and Night Herons, which allow us to compare the age of these crepuscular birds. On the way back we bump into a group of 20 Azure-winged Magpies.
Finally, we spend the last hours of the day in the South part of El Rocío. In a Tamarix tree we find a mixed flock of House and Tree Sparrows which are joined later by Common Waxbills. After this, we head back to the hotel to enjoy a fantastic dinner.
A wonderful sunny morning is the prelude of a spectacular birding day. Pau drives towards Villamanrique to our first stop to see a flock of Spanish Sparrows feeding along a track. In a nearby pool we find a Common Sandpiper. We spend some time taking pictures of horses grassing on the flooded meadow! What a beautiful view!
We continue our birding trip Donana towards La Dehesa making three stops to see some crackers: Purple swam-hen, Black-winged Kite and Black Stork. Once we get to the lake we start looking out for ducks. Soon we find one Drake and two female Ferruginous Ducks, Red crested Pochards and a stunning White-headed Duck. Good birds are added fast! Surprisingly, we get three Swifts flying over! Very likely to be Pallid Swifts but difficult to be completely sure by the speed and height they fly about. In the back paddy fields, Golden Plovers, Lapwings and Black-tailed Godwits feed intensively.
It is getting late so we drive along the farmland stopping just 2 meters away from a Barn Owl, what a marvellous sight! As we drive, we witness numerous groups of Common Cranes already preparing for the migration and a beautiful male Dartford Warbler. Later, Pau pulls over in order to see a pair of far distant raptors approaching. They turn to be a sub-adult Golden Eagle and an odd pale looking Griffon Vulture. From the same spot, Pau scans the front marshes and finds a Caspian Tern.
After lunch and coffee, Dieter calls out as a Short-toed Eagle flies in front of us. An early one! Then, we move to other area hopping to add some new birds. We are lucky enough to find few of the small wintering population of Lesser Kestrel. Finally, on the way back to the hotel we see a nice flock of Calandra Larks and an Osprey flying with a fish on its talons. What a day!
Our final day is spent in Odiel marshes. In the surrounding of the visitor centre we get Dunlins, Redshanks, a Grey Plover, Ringed Plovers and Turnstones. We enter the hide and Pau points out a gorgeous Bluethroat which sadly hides very fast. Later, we continue driving towards the end of the road until we see on the right side of the bridge three Black-necked Grebes. Few minutes later we made another stop to compare two side by side Curlew and Whimbrel.
We park near the gate and take a stroll along the beach. On the other side there are two Razorbills and three Gannets. On the sand, large parties of Lesser black backed and Yellow Legged rest. Finally, we drive back to the visitor centre for having lunch and have a bit of shelter from the wind. On the way, we make two stops to see Ospreys, a Booted Eagle, a Bar-tailed Godwit and a Sandwich Tern. After finishing lunch, a noisy Caspian Tern greets us and we set off towards Seville.
Thanks to Fiona and Dieter for being great companions and for having such an interest about Spanish culture and wildlife.
I have known Vernon and Lynee for three years. They are a very nice couple who enjoy combining the facilities of Benidorm with some birding trips in Costa Blanca.
On Monday we set off to Las Salinas de Santa Pola. Our first stop was near the city, where we get our first waders feeding on the pans: Dunlins, Little Stints, Sandering, Little Ringed Plover and Black-winged Stilts. On the water, there is a large group of Coots and both Grebes (Little and the gorgeous Black-necked). Then we continue to stop in the tower of Tamarit. There we get our first Slender-billed Gull (Pau’s logo!), a Redshank and a Spoonbill. Not far from there, along the national road we make our the last stop in the Salinas. It proves to be a good idea as we see 17 Spoonbills, 24 Wigeons, Sanwich Terns and other common birds.
After having a coffee in Catral, we continue our birding trip in Costa Blanca driving around the farmland, South of El Fondo, seeing 2 Booted Eagles (pale and dark morph). In addition, we see Iberian Grey Shrike, Hoopoe, Crested and Skylark. Sadly, the hides are flooded so we move to the visitor centre. As we step off the car, a friendly Bluethroat shows up. While we have lunch we have great views of Red-knobbed Coots and a wide variety of waders, including a superb Jack Snipe.
Finally we drive northwards to make the last stop in El Clot de Galvany . Once we are there, we find the main path flooded but that is not a problem for visiting the two main hides. There, we get Purple swamp-hen, Grey Wagtail, a stunning male White-headed Duck and a good variety of wildfowl.
During our second trip, we change completely of habitat and head off to the snow-capped mountains of Alicante. We start in Monnegre making 4 short stops. In the first one, we get 2 wonderful males Darford Warblers and a pair of Choughs. On the second stops we find our first Black wheatear on the top of a boulder. As we drive between the orchards we pull over to watch a group of Woodlarcks, Thekla Lark, Sardenian Warbler, Spotless Starlings and a chirping Crested Tit. Later, we get to a recently established small Griffon Vulture colony. Pau found it about 3 years ago and since then has been keeping an eye on them. It seems that they are still fixing the nest, so no doubt the cold snap has delayed the breeding.
Our last stop is in Alcoi where we visit the main Griffon Vulture colony. As we start walking, a wonderful Blue Rock Thrush displays for us moving around the old factory. Along the path, Blackcaps, Serins and other common birds take advantage of the olives. Finally as we walk back to the car, a Goshawk flies right in front of us chasing some small birds! What an end for a Birding trip in Costa Blanca!
Please find a selection of our wildlife trip reports in Spain.
30 March – 5 April 2018 Wildlife trip to Tenerife and Fuerteventura NEW
Picos de Europa
30 August – 6 September 2016 Spanish Carnivorous (Iberian Wolf, Wildcat and Brown Bear)
Local Tours (Alicante, Valencia and Albacete)
10-14 May 2018. 5-birding days in East Spain check list NEW
15-19 November 2017 Birding in East Spain
January 2017 El Fondo, Santa Pola, Monnegre and Alicante mountains
17-18 November 2016 Genet and Steppes of Albacete
22 May 2016 Great Bustard tour-Steppes of Albacete
29 April-1 May 2016 Málaga and Granada
19 April Costa Blanca 2016-Alicante
July Costa Blanca 2015-Alicante
30 November 2015-Alicante
22 December 2015-Valencia
10 September 2014-Valencia
22-30 April 2018 Extremadura and Coto Doñana check list NEW
Granada and Tarifa
The Grand Tour
Sierra de Guara
Every butterfly lover knows how fantastic are Picos de Europa mountains for butterflies. The easiness to reach high altitudes and the variety of flower-filled meadows, deciduous woodlands and deep limestone gorges makes Picos the perfect place for a wildlife trip focus on butterflies.
Usually we organize two trips for year, (please have a look to our tour calendar) one in late June focus on butterflies, orchids, birds and alpine flowers and a second trip in late August-beginning of September when we spend more time in search of carnivours (Wildcat, Iberian Wolf and Cantabrian Bear). Nevertheless, we spend one day looking for Alpine birds and in the midday break there is always time to take a stroll for butterflies. We plan to spend more time in Picos during summer, so please contact us for a day out or for any information you need.
We make a stop for lunch before reaching the impressive gorge of el Desfiladero de la Hermida. Then continue our journey to the hotel in Boca seeing on the way Black and Red Kites, White Storks, Kestrels and Common Buzzard. After check-in we have a nice walk behind the hotel where we found Provençal, Knapweed and Heath Fritillary, Chestnut and Pearly heath, Large and Small white and plants such as Linaria triornithophora. Regarding birds, Bonelli’s Warbler, Raven, Rock Sparrow and Red-rumped Swallow are spotted for all, and Large Psammodromus is seeing as we walk back trough the town.
Dinner and red wine is served at 20:00. While we eat with appetite, we chat about the itinerary we plan to do the following days.
Our first stop is in a pool where soon we find Broad bellied chaser, Western willow spreadwing, Common bluetail damselfly, Large red damselfly and Common bluet. We also find Natherjack tadpoles, lots of tiny Common toads and an Alpine newt. Regarding butterflies, there are good numbers of Yellow Clouded, Common Blue, Knapweed and a Pearl-bordered Fritillary found by Hilary. Cuckoo, Quails, Tree Pipits and Skylarks sing from the nearby fields.
We drive for 10 minutes to reach a picnic area where we have our lunch. On the sky we are marvelled by a a Honey buzzard displaying. After coffee and facilities we walk the path in Ventaniella finding Swallowtail, Brown Argus, a fast flying Brimstone, Wood white and Meadow brown. Later a beautiful Purple-edged copper shows up and Math decides to chase it. The story ends when with Math falling in a ditch! Nothing serious, just trousers covers by mud, no photo of him allowed though!
The weather is changing and stars to drizzle, so we decide to go back to the hotel.
The weather looks miserable, still drizzling and thick fog. Anyway, we can’t do anything, so we carry on with the plan. As we drive towards Fuente Dé we see a Woodchat Shrike and a female Red-backed Shrike 200 meters away. Once we get there, the rain stops but the fog remains. That is a pity as we are going to miss the breathtaking views from the cable car. While we wait for it to take us, we see an Egyptian vulture flying low opposite us and a big flock of Common Swifts.
The astonishing 800m vertical ascent was enjoyed by the group. Once we are up in the mountains, Alpine Choughs fly and pick leftovers from the path left by tourist and Alpine accentors sing as if we were in a sunny summer day! Jim spots the only butterfly of the day a Red Underwing Skipper and Pau finds a party of Snow finches passing fast to our side. Water Pipits sing as it ‘parachuted’ past. Gorgeous alpine plants such as Trumpet Gentians, Leafless-stemmed Globularia, Arenaria purpurascens and Erinus alpinus are seeing for everyone. Northern wheatear and Black Redstar sing from the crags.
Seeing that the weather is not going to improve, we return to the van after lunch and go for sightseeing to Potes.
The sky is clear and the forecast expect 28 ºC, so it seems is going to be a great day for butterflies!!
First we stop in a stream where we find a good variety of butterflies: the endemic Chapman’s ringlet is seeing very well for everyone as it drinks from a muddy pool. Pau finds a cracking Damon Turquoise in a thistle. Adoni’s blue, Orange tip, Green hairstreak, Black-veined White, Mazarine Blue and Grizzled Skippers are seen in few minutes, what a display! Hilary finds an strange insect that turns to be a Owl-flie (Ascalaphidae). In the same path we also find interesting flowers: Digitalis parviflora, the endemic Erygnium bourgatii, Heath Spotted and Early marsh Orchids. In addition, Garden warblers and Black caps keep singing all morning and Pau spots an Iberian wall lizard sunbathing on a bush.
A few km following the road is located the view point of Pandetrave where we have a quick stop to witness the massive massif Central right in front of us. A quick look through the scope reveals a pair of Chamois and Griffon vultures in one far high hillside. In the meadows behind us there are numerous Small heath and Knapweed Fritillary, and at least 2 males Rock buntings.
Our next stop is for having lunch in Caín. Then, we follow the path of the Río Cares seeing large numbers of Cleopatra, Small Cooper and Iberian Grizzled Skipper along the path. Large Wall Brown, Wall brown, Speckled Wood, Painted Lady and a pair of Queen of Spain Fritillary feed on the abundant flowers. On the way back to the minibuses John does very well finding a Dipper bouncing in the river. White and Grey wagtails are also seen.
Today I am ready at 6:30. Yesterday while we had dinner, I was told by a local farmer that a Wildcat was seeing in the next town. I am not very optimistic as July is not the best month for Wildcat, but anyway I am trying as Hilary loves this animals and she is happy to join me. We get to the spot at the break of the day, not much happen the first half and hour but then a stunning male Wildcat crosses the field heading to the forest! Fantastic, but a bit far to get a sharp picture in a poor light conditions, though. After that, we join the rest for breakfast and everyone notices that we are in high spirits.
The first stop is in San Glorio where soon Pau spots a chirping Citril finch. The Cattle has eaten most of flowers so the diversity of butterflies is lower than we expected. However, we locate good numbers of Purpled-edged and Stooty Cooper, Silver-washed Fritillary, Black-veined White, Brown Argus, Short-tailed Blue and other common species.
We continue towards Piedraluengas stopping in a local bar for lunch and facilities. In Piedrasluengas, we can see a flock of 5 Red-Billed Chough and butterflies such as Chapman’s ringlet, De Prunner’s ringlet, Heath Washed Fritillary, Small heath, Glanville Fritillary, Provençal Fritillary, Red admiral, Spotted Fritillary and Meadow Fritillary. A good variety to finish the day!
Today is going to be our last full day in Pico. Temperatures of 30ºC are expected, so we all agree to spend the evening chilling out in the bar and having a cold bath in the river, no for me!!. So, first stop in the morning is a river located near Riaño. Math is amazed by the abundant and variety of Marled butterflies: Marbled White, Spanish and Iberian Marbled Whites. Along the river we find an inm. Black-tailed Skimmer and few Common blue damselfly. Common Chiffchaff and Firecrest sing from the deciduous forest. Butterflies include Chapman’s ringlet, Adoni’s blue, Turquoise blue, Idas blue, Mallow Skipper and Chequered Skipper are relatively common in the beautiful meadows of daisy wheel.
Later, we have our lunch in the hotel terrace and spend the evening at our leisure.
Once we are down in the coast the weather worsened. We head for the Dunes of Liencres to spend few hours before taking the plane. There we find numerous Sea Spurge with what seems Spurge Hawkmoth caterpillars. A young Cuckoo flies from the forest, Linnets feed on seeds and Crested Lark move up and down. On the shore there were Lesser Black-backed and Yellow legged Gull.
Finally, we get to the airport and say goodbyes.
We hope that this report about butterflies in Picos de Europa will bring back memories of a rewarding and enjoyable trip in NW Spain.
Apart from the popular steppes of Extremadura or Villafáfila, there are other superb birding places unknown by most. For instance, the steppes of Albacete in East Spain offer a great opportunity to watch Great and Little Bustards. Futhermore, other specialities such as sandgrouses, larks and Rollers can be found in the steppes. Finally, the temporary pools are packed with Black-necked Grebes, Greater Flamingos, Red Crested Pochars, White headed-ducks and many more.
I am spending three days with Hervé watching birds and looking for mammals (Genet). Today we are going to pick Linda and Mike from a camp site in Oliva and we are heading to the steppes of Albacete. After half and hour drive and a quick coffee we are seeing our first birds: Corn bunting, Rock sparrow, Hoopoe and Crested lark. Pau drives straight to the breeding ground of the elusive Little bustard. The wheat is high, so it is going to be a bit of a challenge. As we walk, a cracking Roller flies over us! Marsh harriers soar in the fields behind us and a solitary Great bustard remains in a green patch in the middle of ploughed field. Pau hears a Little bustard so we move along the track. Hervé spots a silhouette who turns to be a gorgeous male of Little Bustard, well done!
We drive up to visit different pools finding: Black-winged Stilts, Red-crested Pochards, Whiskered, Gull-billed, Black tern and other common birds. Linda particularly enjoys a pair of Black-necked Grebe. It’s 1:20 pm. and our bellies are asking for lunch. After having some tapas and coffee in Pétrola we visit the largest lagoon where the Greater Flamingos breed. There, we also add a Black kite, Yellow Wagtail, Kentish Plovers, Ringed Plover, Collared Pratincole and a superb Great Reed Warbler singing from the reeds. Birds are very close allowing nice views. Later we undo the way following tracks and we get a Little Owl, Calandra Larks, Great Bustards and a Northern Wheatear.
Finally, we stop in one last area to add a Lizard Orchid! Photos here.
I got the enquire from Sam to organize a wildlife tour Málaga for him and his family. They are very keen on orchids, wild flowers and general wildlife. So, after picking them from the airport we set off to Villanuva del Rosario where we have a nice walk seeing our first orchids: Yellow-bee orchid (Ophrys lutea) and the first group of Spanish Ibex. Just in the other side of the road, in a small pine forest we find a large group of Sawfly orchid (Ophrys tenthredinifera). The shade of the pines provides enough moisture to make them grow with great strength. We carry on along the track and find a Mirror orchid (Ophrys speculum) and Pau spots a flock of 8 Red-billed Chough. In the pines there are Bonelli’s Warbler, Willow Warbler, Short-toed Treecreeper, Coal Tit and Crested Tit chirping and moving around. Then, on the way to the picnic area, we find some Fan-flipped Orchid (Anacampis collina) and Early purple orchid (Androrchis mascula) which sadly were passed. While we have lunch, we enjoy good views of Melodious Warbler, Griffon Vultures and Rock Bunting.
We continue driving up hill seeing Spotless Starling, Iberian Magpie and a cracking Bonelli’s Eagle!!!. Wonderful!. Pau makes a last stop on the way dawn hill when he shows us a very interesting orchid; Small Woodcock Orchid (Ophrys picta). Ann is really happy to see this beautiful and rare orchid. After this, we drive for 45 minutes to our hotel in Huétor-Tajar.
During the morning we visit the farmland around Huétor Tajar adding some birds: Yellow Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Little Owl, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Bee-eaters and Sardenian Warbler among other common birds. Before noon, we leave to the mountains of Loja where we take a stroll to see some interesting wildlife. We find soon a Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) and other beautiful flowers such as Mediterranean Catchfly (Silene colorata), Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), Andalusian Storksbill (Erodium recoderi), Southern Daisy (Bellis cordifolia), Southern Knapweed (Centaurea pullata ssp pullata), Tassel Hyacinth (Muscari comosum) and Andalusian Storksbill (Erodium recoderi). Birds are also great, with Crag martins, 2 gorgeous Black wheatear, Stonchat, Woodchat Shrike and a stunning Golden Eagle soaring. What a stroll! Regarding butterflies, Moroccan orange tip, Speckled Wood and Adoni’s blue are also seeing. After having picnic, we continue driving and seeing some birds: Teckla Lark, Spectacled Warbler, Blue-Rock Thrush and Rock Thrush very well spotted by John.
Today we spend the morning in the lagoon of Fuente de Piedra. Pau takes us straight to a colony of Spanish Sparrows and then drives us around the farmland where we find Cattle Egrets, Linnets, Lesser Kestrels, Corn Buntings and a wonderful Montagu’s Harrier. We add some waterfowl and waders in the pools near the visitor centre: Common Pochard, White-headed Duck, Black winged Stilt, Ringed and Little ringed Plover, Collared Pratincole and Curlew Sandpiper. It is a good think that the lagoon has water again, last January was completely dry. Pau shows us two smaller Flamingos among a flock of Greater Flamingos which turn out to be Lesser Flamingos. They are distant but there is a clear difference in colouration. We stop in different hides seeing Little Stilt, Dunlin, Green and Wood Sandpiper, Gadwall, Marsh Harriers and three more butterflies: Scarce Swallowtail, Swallowtail and Bath White. On the drive back to the town, Sam got a Roller perched on a wire and Pau spots a large raptor which turns to be a Short-toed Eagle . Excellent!
It is time the take them to Anteqera where they will spend some days with friends. Thanks again for such a great wildlife tour Málaga!!!